What’s in a (Credential) Name?

If you had no background in credential evaluation, what would you think if someone showed you a diploma from another country that indicated a bachelor’s degree from a college? Would you automatically assume they had attended a post-secondary school? If you’re like most people, the answer is yes.

A Case Study: “College” or “Colegio”? 

I’ll never forget a phone conversation I had during my first year as an evaluator. An applicant’s wife called because she thought we had forgotten to evaluate part of her husband’s education.  She asked why we didn’t include his bachelor’s degree on our report.  I looked through all the documents that they submitted, and didn’t see any post-secondary education.  I thought, “maybe she forgot to send those documents?”

I asked if her husband had more credentials he could submit.  She stated they had sent everything along already.  Then I started to put the pieces together. I asked if she was wondering about the documents for the Bachillerato in Arquitectura from Mexico, from his colegio. She said, “Yes, I don’t see that on the evaluation report.  All I see is a high school diploma.”

Aha!  There was the answer. I explained that what she thought was the US equivalent of a bachelor’s degree was actually equivalent to a high school diploma. It was awarded at the end of secondary school in Mexico, from a specialized vocational program.  She was shocked and started to cry.  She asked me what they should do now, since her husband had been working in the US as an architect…for 17 years! He was going to use the report to apply for a promotion within his company.

This is an example of why we recommend working with official documents issued in the language of the country, and not just translations. Colegio can be translated as “college,” but in some Latin American countries, this level of institution may actually be secondary, not post-secondary. When a student graduates from a secondary school, they often receive a bachillerato or bachiller which can be translated as a “bachelor”. Again, it would be easy to assume that a bachelor in one country means the same as a bachelor in the United States, but that is not always the case. You also need to investigate the level of the program within the host country, along with other factors like admission requirements and length of study.

In this case, as in many Latin American countries, the bachillerato or “bachelor” is equivalent to a high school diploma.  So, you can see why his wife was confused. She had submitted her husband’s “bachelor” degree from his “college” and assumed that we were evaluating his bachelor’s degree in architecture. In reality, the document she submitted was his grade report and diploma from secondary school. When this student originally applied for his job, the employer may have looked at his documents and/or the translation and decided he must have had a bachelor’s degree in architecture, and offered him a job.

Whenever I think about that phone call, it reminds me why comparative education is so important.  An evaluation report can help people continue with their education and/or gain employment.  Having a proper understanding of the type of degree obtained and the level of education, can help avoid unfortunate surprises down the road.


Melissa Ganiere is a Research & Knowledge Management Evaluator and has been with ECE since 2006.  She specializes in education from Sub-saharan Africa and South East Asia, along with refugee documentation and online verification.

 

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